Coming back to my home town is always filled with mixed emotions. On one hand it’s very magical. It reminds me of my carefree teen years when all I had to worry about was doing my homework and passing tests. I was constantly planning the next adventure. The down side of coming back is realizing how much I have been through since those years. Sometimes, those memories can be very painful.
I have been through lots of challenges in my life; so many situations that caused me and my loved ones pain. Sometimes it’s even hard to remember that I was ever so young, and had a happy and carefree life. Coming back home helps remind me of those good old days. And gives me strength to go on.
In the span of our lifetime we make many decisions and many moves. Changing schools, jobs, and locations, we are constantly moving. Even the people who lived in the same house their whole life, and belonged to the same shul and had the same job, still changed more than they realize. Some people change more than others, but life is full of unexpected events, and we are all affected one way or another.
When we arrive at a new location, we do not have any memories at that place yet. We scan the scene quickly to secure our position. When we arrive at an old familiar location, we jog up old memories of the place and assume positions just like in old times. Old places that have pleasant memories bring out the best in us. We feel that we come to life there; the smell, the laughter from that place, it all comes back. Obviously if we were to arrive at a place where we experienced pain and distress our reaction would be different.
My late grandmother, Mrs. Irene Klass, may she rest in peace, used to say that we live in a “connected world,” not a small world, as people often say. This refers to the people we meet throughout our lives, but this also refers to the places we “meet.” When one runs into an old friend or acquaintance, it brings forth certain memories of the people and the places.
We all have certain traits and qualities, but the people and places surrounding us have a great effect on us as well. If we live in a place where we are the only Jewish family around for miles, we will feel our Judaism very strongly and hold on to it with all our might. We will drive miles to buy kosher food and cherish every Jewish article that we have.
If we live in a place surrounded by Jews we might not appreciate all we have, and we might make light of a kosher butcher store and compare prices with non-kosher food. In that situation what was important to the person purchasing the meat was a better price, and in the first situation, it was having kosher meat at all.
The same holds true for living in a Jewish neighborhood. If a person only has one Jewish neighbor, he will appreciate him, but if all the neighbors are Jewish, he might not even know the name of the person living next door.
These situations impact our daily lives. Where do we put our energies, and what’s truly important to us? Do we try to settle disputes quickly or do we ignore them until they become major issues? If we have lots of friends and have a quarrel with one of them, we might not try to make peace so quickly. However, working on our middot should compel us to try to fix things and apologize, if it is warranted, because the people and places that we are in touch with are not coincidental at all.
Hashem, in his infinite wisdom, places very different people in very different places. He does this in order to create a better world and a better connection between people.
We might think that we are picking the places and people that we want to live and be with. However, G-d will always send our way those people who will help us work on ourselves, and G-d will also create situations where we will have to “move” to another place. Every situation that we find ourselves in is an opportunity to look within ourselves as to why Hashem put us where we are at that time.
So each time I travel back to my old home in New York, to visit family and friends, it’s very enjoyable. But it’s also a very big reminder to me from Hashem to look within. Have I changed for better or worse? What kind of a person have I become? Am I going in the path of my ancestors? Am I headed in the right direction? Am I bringing up my family in the best way I can?
In many situations the right thing to do is to reflect and look at what’s going on, in order to decide if we are doing the right things. Going back home, and to my familiar grounds, especially those of my youth, which were filled with positive memories, helped connect me to a higher place in my understanding of myself, and from that point, to grow even higher.
The Jewish people have been wandering for so many years, working on themselves and gathering any sparks that have scattered over the years. May all the Jews in the world merit returning home to Israel, and may our job be to worship Hashem in Jerusalem with the third Beit HaMikdash soon. Amen.